taking the measure of a vintage

Monday, January 31, 2011

The new issue of Wine Enthusiast, for whom I write, includes an extensive vintage chart. Download it here (and note that you can zoom in to make it easier to read the pdf).

It assigns ratings to vintages dating back 20 years in all the major wine regions of the world. And its color coding allows users to guesstimate the drinkability of wines in their cellars. All in all, it conveys a great deal of information in a tightly condensed graphic.

But as with numerical ratings for individual wines, a vintage chart is just a tool, not the final word. Looking at my own small contribution, I am asked to rate vintages for these specific regions: Willamette Valley Pinot Noir; Willamette Valley Whites; Southern Oregon Reds; Columbia Valley Cabernet and Merlot; Columbia Valley Syrah; Columbia Valley Whites.

It is clearly apparent that within each category such a broad brush evaluation must include a vast range of producers, vineyard locations, and winemaking techniques. It is a truism that in virtually every vintage, someone makes great wine. And in even the very best vintages, someone screws up.

To cite one example of where, in my view, such ratings can be over-emphasized, at least one influential wine publication has named 2008 the best vintage ever in Oregon. I find it impossible to make such a sweeping statement. Many of the 2008 wines are just now being released; I am just now embarking upon tastings from many top producers and expect more to follow throughout the year. Anyone who knows wine will tell you that Pinot Noir is notorious for changing dramatically in the first months and years of its life as a finished wine. The christening of 2008 as a near-perfect vintage is, in some respects, the mirror image of the damning of 2007 as a ruined vintage.

In my experience, there were some excellent Pinots made in 2007. So although I gave the vintage a rather so-so numerical score (84), if you research specific producers you’ll find more than a handful of 90+ wines.

The point here is to use vintage charts as a starting point, but not an end point. They are never intended as the final word on every wine from every producer in a given year. I have seen vintages that were classified as poor turn out, over time, to be magnificent. So stay tuned, and don't jump to conclusions.

6 comments:

ColoradoWinePress said...

So, what do you use to base your vintage scores? Is it the potential of the wines due to the climate and growing conditions of the year? Or is it based on a sampling of actual scores from wines of that vintage?

PaulG said...

CWP - I am tasting WA and OR wines year round. When the deadline approaches to submit my comments for the magazine's Vintage Chart, I look through notes and memories of back vintages tasted recently; I make the best projection possible on the new vintage based on the young wines I've already tasted. My standard operating procedure when tasting young wines is to re-visit them over a period of days, in order to get the best possible notion of how they are likely to age. Which is why I often favor vintages that are not immediately picked out as "best of the century" or some such sobriquet.

Anonymous said...

How come no one wants to rate Israeli wines? I'm kosher and it's tough to figure out what's decent. Plus I can't get Hagafen wine in Washington; I think they're the best American kosher wine. None of the distributors will carry it (and I've tried...)

Justin said...

"at least one influential wine publication"

How coy.

Trey Busch - Sleight of Hand Cellars said...

Paul, calling a vintage can be difficult to say the least. For 2010 many people here in WA State said that it is identical to 1999. Low Alc, high acid. I find the wines I have in the cellar are much more varied than that blanket statement. I have a Cab Franc from Yakima that could easily be from Chinon, at 12.5% alc and racy acidity. But I also have Merlot from Red Mtn and Walla Walla at 15.2% alc, Cabs at 14.2-15.0%, Syrahs from 13.9-15%, etc etc. Our state is too big to give it one rating. Just my 2cents.

PaulG said...

Good info, Trey. I totally agree that putting a "score" on a vintage is a very rough approximation at best, useless at worst.

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